The Open University since 2006
Alternatively you can skip the navigation by pressing 'Enter'.
The Bottom Line: Autumn 2016: Selling your corporate babyThursday, 27th October 2016 20:30 - BBC Radio 4Evan Davis and entrepreneurs discuss selling your company. Read more: The Bottom Line: Autumn 2016: Selling your corporate baby
Canals: The Making of a Nation: The Boat PeopleSunday, 30th October 2016 19:00 - BBC Four
Sleuths, Spies & Sorcerers: Andrew Marr’s Paperback Heroes: FantasyAvailable until Friday, 25th November 2016 23:00What set of writing conventions govern fantasy novels by the likes of George RR Martin? Andrew Marr explores... Read more: Sleuths, Spies & Sorcerers: Andrew Marr’s Paperback Heroes: Fantasy
All in the Mind - Autumn/Winter 2016: Tasers, Amnesia Museum, The dangers of diagnosing Donald TrumpAvailable for over a year
Inside The Commons: Reinventing The HouseAvailable until Saturday, 29th October 2016 19:00
Ten Years of OpenLearnOpenLearn, the home of free learning from The Open University, is ten in October. To celebrate... Read more: Ten Years of OpenLearn
Take the photographic memory testCan you capture scenes just by looking at them? Find out with our photographic memory test. Launch now: Take the photographic memory test
The business of footballWelcome to this free course, The business of football, produced by The Open University working in... Try: The business of football now
Introduction to bookkeeping and accountingLearn about the essential numerical skills required for accounting and bookkeeping. This free... Try: Introduction to bookkeeping and accounting now
In this free course we explore proteins and how they are the 'doers' of the cell. They are huge in number and variety and diverse in structure and function, serving both the structural building blocks and the functional machinery of the cell. Just about every process in every cell requires specific proteins. The basic principles of protein structure and function which are reviewed in this course are crucial to understanding how proteins perform their various roles.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- define and use each of the terms printed in bold in the text
- describe the different levels of protein structure and their interdependence
- explain how steric limitations determine secondary structure in polypeptides
- describe, using examples, the relationship between protein structure and function
- understand the significance of domains in protein function and how they have arisen.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 The three-dimensional nature of proteins
- 1.1 Introduction
- 1.2 The peptide bond and primary structure of proteins
- 1.3 Protein secondary structure
- 1.4 Protein tertiary structure
- 1.5 Quaternary structure
- 1.6 Fibrous proteins
- 1.7 Summary of Section 1
- 2 Assembling a functioning protein
- 3 Protein domains
- 4 Protein families and structural evolution
- 5 Dynamic proteins
- 6 Catalytic proteins
- 7 Studying protein function
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Proteins are the ‘doers’ of the cell. They are huge in number and variety and diverse in structure and function, serving as both the structural building blocks and the functional machinery of the cell. Just about every process in every cell requires specific proteins.
Let us begin by listing some of the basic cellular processes and the role that proteins play.
Chemical catalysis Enzymes, which are responsible for catalysing biological reactions, are the largest functional group of proteins. Whilst there are thousands of different enzymes, all catalysing different reactions, they do have some features in common and can often be identified as members of a particular family of enzymes.
Mechanical support Typically, support is provided by proteins, e.g. the cytoskeletal proteins inside the cell and the extracellular matrix proteins outside the cell.
Communication The signals within and between cells (e.g. cytokines) and the apparatus for recognising and interpreting or reacting to signals (receptors and transducers) are mainly proteins.
Adhesion Cell surface proteins mediate contact between cells and between a cell and the extracellular matrix (which is also made up of proteins).
Movement Proteins generate movement in a cell (motor proteins).
Defence Antibodies (immunoglobulins) are proteins that recognise specific targets (usually proteins themselves). This facility is critical for an immune response.
Transport Proteins are key molecules in the transport of substances both within a cell and to and from the cell.
Storage A number of proteins serve to store small molecules or ions; for example, ferritin binds iron and stores it in the liver.
You will come across many examples in this course of proteins performing the functions outlined above, and the molecular basis for various cellular processes will be examined in some detail. The basic principles of protein structure and function, which are reviewed in this course, are crucial to understanding how proteins perform their various roles.
The huge diversity in the functions of proteins is reflected in the specialisation of these molecules. As you will see in this course, every protein optimally performs a particular job and the key to how it does so is its structure. The refinement of protein structure and optimisation of protein function are driven by evolutionary pressures. Mutations at the DNA level that result in a change in protein structure and function will persist if they enhance survival or are not detrimental to the organism.
Proteins come in as many different shapes and sizes (Figure 1) as they have functions. A broad distinction is made between globular proteins and fibrous proteins. Globular proteins are a particularly diverse group that includes enzymes, receptors and transport proteins, and are characterised by a roughly spherical compact shape. Fibrous proteins are elongated and rod-like (e.g. collagen, represented in (Figure 1) and often have a structural role. Most of the proteins discussed in this course are globular proteins, which reflects both their number and the fact that they lend themselves to structural analysis by X-ray diffraction and NMR.
In this course, we will consider aspects of the structure of proteins and illustrate how, through their interactions with other cellular components, they can function as dynamic molecular machines. We will begin by exploring the three-dimensional nature of proteins, reviewing some of their biochemistry and the biophysical rules that determine their structure and studying key structural elements that are common to many proteins. You will encounter these activities as you progress through the course. The relationship between protein structure and function is explored using as examples a variety of different proteins, including enzymes, signalling proteins and transport proteins. All proteins bind other substances, often other proteins or organic molecules or inorganic ions. These interactions are integral to a protein's function and their specificity and affinity are critically determined by the protein's structure. This aspect is discussed at some length. The course finishes with a consideration of some of the techniques employed in studying protein–protein interactions.
This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 3 study in.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Biology courses or view the range of currently available OU Biology courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Wednesday, 2nd March 2016
Last updated on: Wednesday, 2nd March 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
If you enjoyed this, why not follow a feed to find out when we have new things like it? Choose an RSS feed from the list below. (Don't know what to do with RSS feeds?)
Remember, you can also make your own, personal feed by combining tags from around OpenLearn.
All our alternative formats are free for you to download, for more information about the different formats we offer please see our FAQs. The most frequently used are Word (for accessibility), PDF (for print) and ePub and Kindle to download to eReaders*.
- Word (6.8 MB)
- PDF (4.1 MB)
- ePub 3.0 (5.7 MB)
- ePub 2.0 (5.7 MB)
- Kindle (1.9 MB)
- RSS (503 KB)
- HTML (5.9 MB)
- SCORM (5.9 MB)
- OUXML Package (57 KB)
- OUXML File (204 KB)
- IMS Common cartridge
*Please note you will need an ePub and Mobi reader for these formats.